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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography

I-35W Bridge Walking Tour

A Walking Tour Of The I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge


Lock & Dam Visitor Center Stone Arch Bridge U of M Access Road I-35W Bridge (North End) Sanford & Wilkins Hall The Big-M Bridge Education Sciences Hall Northern Pacific Bridge #9 20th Avenue South I-35W Bridge (North End) Observation Deck West River Parkway Remembrance Garden Bicycle Trail Mill Ruins Park Guthrie Theatre I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge, Mississippi River, Minneapolis, MN
Note—click on any number above to read more about that tour segment.
The best way to see the new I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge is on foot. This page presents a 2-3/4 mile walking tour to see the I-35W bridge from just about every angle that is easily accessible by the general public. A typical strolling pace is about 3 miles per hour, which means that this tour can be done in under an hour, but allow two to three hours if you want to stop and spend time at any given location or to read the guide signs along the way. The tour works best going clockwise. These locations are patrolled, so it is relatively safe even at night.

Note—these materials are covered by copyright and may not be used without written permission.

I-35W Bridge Walking Tour Segments
#1 - Lock & Dam Visitor Center
#2 - Stone Arch Bridge
#3 - U of M Access Road
#4 - I-35W Bridge (North End)
#5 - Sanford & Wilkins Hall
#6 - The Big-M Bridge
#7 - Education Science Building
#8 - Northern Pacific Bridge #9
  #9 - 20th Avenue South
#10 - I-35W Bridge (South End)
#11 - Observation Deck
#12 - West River Parkway
#13 - Remembrance Garden
#14 - Bicycle Trail
#15 - Mill Ruins Park
#16 - Guthrie Theatre
 
#1 - Lock & Dam Visitor Center

Our tour starts off at the Lock & Dam Visitor Center, located at the north end of Portland Avenue. You can park in a pay lot at Portland and West River Parkway, or look for on-street or parking ramp spots nearby. The US Army Corps of Engineers offers tour of the lock & dam on a regular basis during the summer. If you have time, take the tour. It is a good way to learn about the falls and how the locks raise boats 75 feet to take them up and over Saint Anthony Falls. The I-35W bridge is visible when looking east towards the lower falls lock & dam. Once you are done at the lock & dam, head up to the deck of the Stone Arch Bridge.

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#2 - Stone Arch Bridge

The Stone Arch Bridge is an old railroad bridge built in 1883 that was abandoned, then converted into a pedestrian and bicycle bridge. The Stone Arch Bridge offers spectacular views of the the upper falls, the upper lock & dam, downtown Minneapolis, and the milling districts on both sides of the Mississippi River. One of the best side views of the I-35W bridge is available from the Stone Arch Bridge.

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#3 - U of M Access Road

Once you reach the north east end of the Stone Arch Bridge, look for an access road that runs off to the right along the top of the bluffs. It will be just beyond the power plant. There are actually 2 road that go to the right, the first runs directly along the power plant and goes down into the river flats. You want the second road, which is marked for U of M vehicles only. You will walk about 800 feet east along this road to reach the north end of the I-35W bridge. This access road follows the railroad right-of-way that once carried Great Northern and later Burlington Northern passenger trains to the Stone Arch Bridge, and into the Minneapolis Union Depot.

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#4 - I-35W Bridge (North End)

At stop number four on our tour, you will be standing under the north end of the I-35W bridge. You will notice an old railroad track running under the bridge. This is where the old I-35W bridge fell onto some railroad cars when the bridge collapsed in 2007. To the northwest, you will see the Metal-Matic factory. Workers from Metal-Matic were some of the first people on the scene to help rescue victims of the bridge collapse. Just east of the I-35W bridge is the 10th Avenue Bridge. This large concrete arch bridge was built in the late 1920's, one of four such large concrete arch bridges over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. From this location, walk out to SE 2nd Street following the path under the 10th Avenue Bridge. Back-track just a bit to the west to check out the tunnel where SE 2nd Street passes under I-35W. Note the glass tiles on the wall, which were create by students at schools across the metro area.

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#5 - Sanford & Wilkins Hall

Once you are on SE 2nd Street, walk to the east on the sidewalk, and round the curve in the road onto 11th Avenue SE. Just after you get on 11th Avenue SE, cross the street and walk through the parking lot behind Sanford Hall and Wilkins Hall. These are two U of M dorm buildings, along with a dining hall. There will be a sidewalk at the far end of the parking lot. Continue east on that sidewalk until you get to the Big M Bridge.

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#6 - The Big-M Bridge

Cross the Big M bridge going southwest, and walk until you get to the sidewalk along East River Parkway. The Big-M was built in 1949, but was several blocks west of this location. It was moved to this site in 1995. It is called the Big-M bridge because of the large letter M built into the bridge towers.

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#7 - Education Sciences Building

Once you are on East River Parkway, head to the west and curve around to the south as the road makes a sweeping turn along the edge of the river bluffs. The building to your left is the Child Development center. Off to your right is the Education Sciences Building. This was once the Mine Engineering building that featured a small blast furnace for experimenting with processing iron from the Iron Range in northern Minnesota. In fact, this building is where the Taconite process was developed. The building was redeveloped into the Education Sciences Building earlier in the 2000s. Once you get to the south end of the building, continue down the steps and around the back of the building, heading towards the Dunn Brothers Coffee in the lower level. This is a good place for a stop if you need a breather. While you head down the hill towards the coffee shop, note the three metal beams planted in the lawn. This sculpture was made from the beams that once supported the blast furnace. The project manager for the building couldn't bear to throw this beams away, so he planted them in concrete. Interestingly, more people comment about this impromptu sculpture than the expensive rock sculptures that were purchased as part of the building remodel.

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#8 - Northern Pacific Bridge #9

Our next tour stop is Northern Pacific Bridge #9, and old railroad bridge that was once located somewhat further downstream, but was moved to this location in 1922 when the railroad lines were moved from the center of the U of M campus and put in the trench that runs through Dinkytown. The bridge entrance is located right next to the coffee shop. Once you are out onto the bridge deck, note the fantastic views of downtown Minneapolis, the lower falls area, and, looking in the other direction, the U of M campus. This would be the best available view of the I-35W bridge if it wasn't for the 10th Avenue Bridge being in the way. As it is, the two bridges compliment each other very well. Both do the same job, carry cars over the river, and both are built using the same material, concrete. However, the structure and technology of the two bridges are very different. When you get to the south end of the bridge, continue on the trail until you get to 20th Avenue.

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#9 - 20th Avenue South

The trail at the south end of Northern Pacific Bridge #9 will end at 20th Avenue. Note the remains of another old railroad bridge, Northern Pacific Bridge #10. This was the route that Northern Pacific passenger trains took to get to the Minneapolis Union Depot during the golden age of passenger rail. Make a turn to the right, and head down the river bluffs to West River Parkway following the trail that runs along the now closed segment of 20th Avenue. This path runs through an area that was once home to the Minneapolis Gas Works, which converted coal into city gas prior to natural gas becoming popular.

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#10 - I-35W Bridge (South End)

The trail running along 20th Avenue will exit onto West River Parkway directly under the 10th Avenue Bridge. This location will be your single best view of the new I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge. This is a great location to take a photo of the bridge, especially at night when the bridge is lit up. There are a number of good spots to view the bridge on both sides of the parkway. One of my favorites is to climb up the bluff between the 10th Avenue Bridge and I-35W bridge. While it is kind of steep, it is easy to climb. Just be careful not to slip on the grass if it is wet.

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#11 - Observation Deck

While you are on West River Parkway under the south end of the I-35W bridge, head down the zigzag sidewalk to visit the observation deck located at the base of the south main bridge piers. From the deck, you can watch river traffic and get a close view of the LED light panels that are under the drain grates at the base of each bridge pier.

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#12 - West River Parkway

After visiting the bridge observation deck, head back up to West River Parkway, and walk to the west towards the downtown area. You will pass the Minnegasco facility located on the top of the river bluff, and the U of M admin building and Red Cross building located on the south side of the road.

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#13 - Remembrance Garden

After walking about 1,500 feet west of the I-35W bridge on West River Parkway, you will arrive at the Remembrance Garden, a memorial to the victims of the bridge collapse disaster. The 13 steel columns represent the 13 people who were killed in the bridge collapse. Please take a moment to read each of their stories. The water feature includes the names of all people who were known to be on the bridge and who survived. There is an observation deck located behind the water feature that has a nice view of the river. The memorial was originally planned to be located across the street in Gold Medal Park. There is a mound at the center of the park. Follow the path through the park to wind your way up to the top of the mound. This will offer a nice view of the falls area including a limited view of the I-35W bridge. When you are done, walk back to West River Parkway.

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#14 - Bicycle Trail

When you arrive back at the Remembrance Garden, follow the bicycle trail that heads down towards the river flats at the west end of the memorial. Once you are at the bottom of the hill, continue to the west towards the Stone Arch Bridge.

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#15 - Mill Ruins Park

When heading west across the river flats towards the Stone Arch Bridge, you have the choice of two different paths. One path runs along the roadway. That is the most direct path. The other path runs along a small waterway known as a tailrace. That is the more interesting path to explore. It will take you to the ruins of the waterworks that once powered the mills that made Minneapolis a global economic powerhouse some 100 years ago. After the peak of the milling era and after most mills converted to steam power, this area was developed into a hydro-electric plant. That plant was abandoned, and then covered with dirt when the lock & dam was built in the 1960s. Once you are done visiting Mill Ruins Park, head towards Portland Avenue.

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#16 - Guthrie Theatre

Once you reach Portland Avenue, the walking tour is done, unless you want to make one last optional tour stop at the Endless Bridge at the Guthrie Theatre. From Portland Avenue, walk south a block to 2nd Street, then east two blocks to Chicago Avenue. Enter the Guthrie and head up the escalators to the the Endless Bridge. As one of the world's longest cantilevered observation decks, this amazing structure would be a tourist attraction in its own right. However, add in the amazing views of the Saint Anthony Falls area and the I-35W bridge, and this is nothing short of spectacular. The bridge is open most nights until 11 PM, and there is no admission fee. If you want to cap off an already perfect day, visit the Mill City Museum located next door to the Guthrie. Located in the ruins of an old flour mill, it tells the story of the falls and the milling district in Minneapolis.

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
For further information, contact: john@johnweeks.com